Though Judy Fugate had been a Knox County School teacher for years, she first heard about YOKE through their church, Salem Baptist in Halls. Some of the young people from church were serving as YOKE Folk at Halls Middle and reached out to Judy and her husband, John, for financial support through YOKE’s letter writing campaign. “John and I always enjoy supporting young people in ministry, so we were happy to help,” explained Judy.

When Judy transferred to Halls Middle, the students from Salem approached her about joining them as their team leader and she gladly accepted. “They were already functioning like a well-oiled machine, so my focus was mostly on mentoring them spiritually,” recalled Judy. “We even held team meetings in my classroom after club. Those were probably my favorite times together.”

It was at Halls that Judy learned about some of the unique challenges that middle schoolers face. “One evening, as we were greeting students at the door, a young man approached and I greeted him by name,” remembered Judy. “He stopped immediately and asked how I knew his name. When I told him I remembered meeting him at club before, he was incredulous. He explained to me that most of his teachers didn’t even call him by name. I was saddened by his response, but also glad that he was coming to YOKE where he felt seen and known.”

Though she hasn’t served with YOKE in several years, Judy recently got a phone call from one of her former YOKE Kids, Hayden Smith, who now serves as the Team Leader at Halls. Over dinner, Hayden shared his memories from middle school. “My eighth-grade year was the worst, and YOKE was the only positive thing I had at that point.” He vividly remembers attending club on Valentine’s Day and hearing Judy talk about the love of God. “I learned that I mattered to God, despite how insignificant I felt,” he recalled. “I decided that night to trust God and give my life to Him.”

“Hayden’s story was remarkable! How humbling to learn that God used me in such a meaningful way,” explained Judy. That night Judy and John also learned that Hayden had some things in common with their son Joseph, who passed away 5 years ago. Hayden attended L&N STEM Academy and enjoyed Ultimate Frisbee like Joseph had. “We were thrilled to hear that Hayden continues to follow Jesus and serves with YOKE at the same school he attended. The humble confidence he exudes comes from knowing without a doubt that he is fully known and unconditionally loved by his Creator.”

Judy is now in her third year as an administrator with KCS Region 5 and John continues to teach agriculture at Union County High School. Though they’ve been out of middle school ministry for a few years, the ministry of YOKE is still very close to their hearts. “Middle school is a difficult time for young people, explained Judy. “Sometimes all they want is to be accepted and loved for who they are. I love that through YOKE, students can come have fun, feel accepted, and learn about Christ—the one who knows and loves them most of all!”

Read more about Hayden’s story here.